Translation in history: Reflections on Frantz Fanon across continents and languages in light of Vermeer

Kathryn Batchelor (University of Nottingham, UK)

“What is the purpose of historiography? What is the purpose of studying translations and past translatorial action?”

Hans J. Vermeer. Skizzen zu einer Geschichte der Translation. Bd. 2. Altenglisch, Alt- und Frühmittelhochdeutsch: Literaturverzeichnis und Register für Band 1 und 2. Frankfurt a. M.: Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation, 1992, p. 13.

This paper takes as its starting point Vermeer’s questions on translation history: “What is the purpose of historiography? What is the purpose of studying translations and past translatorial action?” Engaging dialogically with this quotation and with Vermeer’s introductory essay to Skizzen zu einer Geschichte der Translation, the paper reflects on a recent project exploring the translation of Frantz Fanon’s works into twelve different languages (Batchelor and Harding 2017). Focussing in particular on translations carried out in the 1960s and 70s, the project investigates the motivations underlying the translations and assesses the influence of the translations on intellectual, political and revolutionary movements in the target cultures. The project is thus above all an attempt to contribute to “translation in history” (Rundle 2011, 35) rather than to write a “history of translation” (ibid.) and in this respect differs fundamentally from Vermeer’s Skizzen. Nevertheless, Vermeer’s theoretical reflections are relevant to historical projects of this first type, and in this paper I shall focus on two aspects of his discussion. Firstly, with reference to Vermeer’s (1992, 26) diagrammatic schema of overall perspective, I shall ask what comparisons between source and target texts bring to translation history and to what extent they are compatible with an overall perspective that privileges target culture reception. Secondly, I shall interrogate the interplay between facts and interpretation in historical research. While Vermeer (1992, 23) stresses the impossibility of knowing “was war”, one of the stated goals of our project is to investigate the veracity of Homi Bhabha’s (2004) statements concerning Fanon’s influence on violent and revolutionary movements around the world. To what extent does unearthing facts and artefacts pertaining to translations and translators allow us to construct more reliable accounts of a work’s reception across cultures, and what role does interpretation play in the construction of such accounts?


Batchelor, Kathryn / Harding, Sue-Ann (eds.) (2017): Translating Frantz Fanon across Continents and Languages. London/New York: Routledge.
Bhabha, Homi K. (2004): “Foreword: Framing Fanon”, in: The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon. Translated by Richard Philcox. New York: Grove Press, vii-xii.
Rundle, Christopher (2011): “History through a Translation Perspective”, in: Antoine Chalvin / Anne Lange (eds.): Between Cultures and Texts: Itineraries in Translation History. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 31-43.
Vermeer, Hans J. (1992): „Einleitung“, in: Skizzen zu einer Geschichte der Translation. Volume 6.1. Frankfurt: Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation, 15-42.